Hello and welcome!
Today I share a little history. It’s been a rough week and I don’t have much else to share 🙂
Way back in 1998-1999, Ray and I started working on a project wherein we wanted to take 2nd Edition, mate it with GURPS, and come out the other side with a solid game that we wanted to play. We were already doing this as house rules and on-the-spot decisions (in classic “rulings, not rules” fashion), but we wanted to do a little more that just that. So we were working on it when 3rd Edition came out. And once it was out, we put our pet project away. 3rd Edition did what we had been trying to do – so why try to innovate? We could do what we wanted with that, rather than trying to make our own thing.
And for the next ten years or so we did exactly that, blissfully unaware of the goings-on in the indie game community. We skipped The Forge and the rise of “Story Games” (a term which is problematic at best but which, for me, is defined as a game wherein the story’s structure is directly exposed to and/or directly manipulated by players on a metafictional level). We were merrily playing away with gaming as a weekly pastime in our lives.
When 3rd Edition switched to 3.5, we half-switched. When 3.5 became 4th Edition, we tried to switch but didn’t like it. It felt like a step too far into “game” to us, and a step away from “a framework to play out an interactive story.” At the time I described it as more of a board game than a roleplaying game. That impression of it has stuck with me. That’s not to say it’s not a great game – it’s a very impressive piece of work! It just wasn’t the game we wanted to play.
But then 3.5 forked and became Pathfinder, too, and we gave that a try. And it was a lot like the game we enjoyed. But it felt much crunchier and more complex. And the community around it seemed to be very much, in our experience, more about “character builds” and “optimization” than about experiencing the actual adventures. And I very quickly grew out of enjoying that game – as a GM, I had to be too nitpicky for my tastes. As a player, the same. And it seemed to me that this was not a matter of the culture at the tables I was playing at, but a matter of the rules being so structured and so detailed that they practically necessitated such an attitude. The games I played in became less about the story and the adventure and the characters, and more about the mechanics of accomplishment.
And when we played with new folks, folks introduced to roleplay through Pathfinder, they said, “Wow, we’ve never played anything like what you’re doing.” And in late 2011 I started rethinking what we’d been doing in the late 90s and decided, “you know, that would be a cool thing to try again.”
Now, there’s a school of thought that says not to bother coming up with your own rule system because they’re a dime a dozen and don’t ever do anything new. There’s a reason so many are called “heartbreakers.” Just use the rules that are already out there, and smush ’em together to get something that you enjoy playing. And that’s a very attractive thought, but that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for shared experience. Because that just means that every table is doing something different, and that makes the exchange of ideas much more difficult.
So we decided to ignore that school of thought and started working on what was at the time called Infinite Earths. And it started out as a simplified d20 clone. But over time we grew less and less enamored with that idea, and decided instead to strike out in a different direction. We’ve chronicled the whole thing here on our developer blog. And while we were working on now-Forthright, Wizards of the Coast has been working on 5th Edition. We stayed away from the playtests and I stayed away from reading about it because I didn’t want to borrow or copy.
Well, now the basic rules are out and. . .we’re very similar. Not exactly alike, and really different in a lot of ways, but there are definite similarities. And 22-year-old me would be more than happy to say “screw it, let’s just use that.” 36-year-old me is much less interested in just throwing it all away, though. 36-year-old me has a different perspective.
We didn’t start as game designers. I’m a programmer and sysadmin, my wife is a web developer, and Ray’s a journalist and editor who’s moved on to web development because money. We haven’t been schooled in game design or steeped in game theory and we don’t really have that many highfalutin ideas about what games mean or should mean or any of that. We set out to create something that was fun and easy to play and easy to learn. Something that didn’t require understanding of story structure to just play. In short, we started with most of the same goals that they did.
And we, in our small corner of the world, created (independently) something that shares a lot of characteristics (such as a lot of the base mathematics, the use of Bolster/Advantage and Hinder/Disadvantage, the provision of personality traits in a character) with the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I think that’s pretty damn awesome, because that was done with a hell of a lot more money by people with a hell of a lot more experience.
But they had something. . .a burden, a boon. . .that we didn’t have to deal with. They had a legacy to uphold. And looking at 5th Edition, it’s clear that they’re looking for new ground while still holding onto a lot of those “fundamental D&Disms” that keep the game feeling like D&D. The class system, the ability scores (still a number that means another number!) and the magic system are all the old classics with a new coat of polish.
And as a result, I think Forthright can still offer a different experience than 5th Edition. We got rid of classes and ability scores, and our magic system (soon!) is entirely different. We have the Fellowship, and we’re not about “killing monsters looting corpses.” We have a social persona structure that tries to provide streamlined guidance for NPC interaction, taking that out of the realm of GM fiat. I think there’s enough difference between us that it’s still worthwhile to move forward.
This is not me trying to weigh “better and worse.” This is a little bit of history for perspective, and sharing the thoughts we’ve had about whether or not we’re different enough and interesting enough to matter. In the end, I think we are and I think we will continue to be. Why try to innovate? Because we can.
Thanks for reading! Next week we’re planning on having the 1.02 Social Interaction and Combat chapters up and available. See you then!